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tv   Key Capitol Hill Hearings  CSPAN  August 19, 2014 7:00am-9:01am EDT

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at the same time, he will have an army move down the shenandoah valley southward, cutting off lee's supplies from that quarter, and he'll have another army move up the james river, attacking richmond and then moving into lee's rear. so there will be a three-pronged attack against the army of northern virginia, basically replicating that amassing of armies that grant sees for the entire nation. lee finds himself in a tough situation. the army of northern virginia is quartered just south of the rapadan river here in virginia. the massive army of the potomac is just to the north of him, just on the other side of the river. lee is the kind of general that likes to take the initiative, but he can't. he's massively outnumbered. he's also aware of that army in the shenandoah valley and the army forming below richmond and realizes he may have to shift reinforcements from one to
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another. lee basically takes a waiting game. what is grant going to do. grant is going to move one way or the other. lee is uncertain. so he for fits the initiative to his opponent. this is unlike the lee that we usually see. but in this instance he has no choice. he sends his cavalry out past each ends of his lines sort of to act as a trip wire to let him know where the federals are coming from and then waits. the army was commanded by general george gordon lee, the hero of gettysburg, mead at this point was in a hot seat. he failed to destroy lee's army at gettysburg. he was being investigated by congress. we all know how bad that can be. and so mead was in a bad situation. grant visited him and was impressed by mead, because what mead told grant was that he would step down willingly and let grant bring some of his own
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people from the west to run the army of the potomac. grant decided to keep mead on. he needed somebody with mead's knowledge of that army in order to run it in detail. and that, of course, is knowledge that grant didn't have. so what grant decides to do is travel with the army of the potomac, look over mead's shoulder, make sure they were fighting the way he wanted them to. but at the same time, not interfere with their operations. as i mentioned this morning, grant will keep that promise for about one day, as the armies move into the wilderness. i talked this morning generally about the relationship between the commanders of these armies. i'd like to talk a little bit now also about some of the subordinate commanders. here on the battle field of cold harbor they're going to play a big park. grant and mead have a very bad relationship. initially mead will be hopeful it will work out, but these are two very different kinds of generals. grant likes to do the
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unexpected. is willing to take risks. mead is much more cautious. socially they're very different people, and their age comes from different social strata. they write home and tell their wives basically that the relationship is deteriorating. after a few days of fighting, mead basically writes home and tells his wife that he would resign from his position if he could, but honor requires him to stay on. there will be a breakdown in the union command relationship. of course, robert e. lee will have no such problems. he will be the head of the army of northern virginia and everybody knew it. who were the subordinate commanders that each of they was generals were going to have underneath them? well, the union army will have four army corps, four infantry corps and one cavalry corps. the union's second corps will be led by hancock. i'm sure you're all familiar with him. he will not perform well against grant, though, because he's been
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badly injured. he was shot at gettysburg, had a wound in his thigh. he will spend a lot of the campaigns against lee here in virginia in an ambulance. the union's fifth corps will be under a gentleman by the name of warren. general warren is an unusual character, a young man. he had been an engineer, had fathomed little round top at gettysburg. he's something of an odd duck. as a matter of fact, some of his cohorts would laugh at him. i'm sure we all know people like that. that's general warren. general warren also thought a lot of himself, and as you'll see at this campaign, often thought his plans were better than those of his superiors. the union's sixth corps will be in the hands of general
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sedgwick. he will be shot down by a south carolina sharpshooter at the battle of spotsylvania courthouse. the sixth corps will be beheaded by ambrose wright. horacio ambrose wright is a general that most of you probably have not heard about. and he comes to the sixth corps without much background. the union army will also have within it general ambrose burnside, who will be commanding the ninth army corps. burnside is the general who headed the army of the potomac during the battle at fredericksburg. grant is now bringing him back to join the army of the potomac. because of burnside's former position, grant decides that burnside can't serve underneath mead, and instead will report directly to grant who will coordinate him with general mead. you can see of the command confusion that's going to take place, and some of that will become evident here at cold
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harbor. the union cavalry, most of the commanders that you historians would have been familiar with are now gone. john buford has died. general kill patrick has been exiled to the west. what grant decides to do is bring one of his generals from the west, general phil sheridan, eastward and put him in charge of the cavalry of the potomac. general grant will be selecting the cavalry commander who will be reporting to general mead. a very awkward command relationship. and a command relationship that won't work, because each of these are extraordinarily strong-willed men. i suspect phil sheridan's appearance might have had to do with problems as well. writers tell us as the campaign opens, phil sheridan was about 5'5" tall, weighed about 115 pounds. bow-legged, with a pointy head, looked like his black hair had been painted on. abraham lincoln who had a good
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way with words explained that phil sheridan didn't have enough neck to hang him by. and also, noted that he was the only man he knew who could scratch his ankles without bending over. this is a new commander of the union cavalry for the army of the potomac. as we'll see, we'll see a lot of sheridan here at cold harbor. a fascinating figure. but also a lot of problems, particularly for general mead. what about robert e. lee and his force? the people here at cold harbor? well, lee had three infantry army corps, and one cavalry corps. robert e. lee's first corps begins under longstreet. but longstreet will be badly wounded after the second day of fighting grant. and he will be replaced by general richard heron anderson, a south carolinan. a man who liked to smoke mirchon pipes. we'll see a lot of him at cold
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harbor. the confederate second corps is under richard stoddard ewell. he will be replaced by early, a former prosecutor, tctjstrong-wd erasible guy. we'll see how early performs here at cold harbor. the confederate third corps commanded by ambrose powell hill of virginia, out of culpepper county, a.p. hill, though, had been quite ill. he's now commanding the larger remnant of stonewall jackson's old confederate first corps, as well as his former light division. a.p. hill will do very poorly. there's one thing about a.p. hill that most people haven't really focused on that i think would make an interesting story. being a storyteller and historian, i would like to write a book about it one day. a.p. hill had the unusual talent
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of dating women who later married union generals. and it's hard to figure out how he was able to figure this out ahead of time. i know most of you are familiar with the fact that he went out with this marcy, who, of course, married george mcclellan. what you might not know is he also went out with a young lady from baltimore, her name was emily chase, and just before the battle of gettysburg, she married general warren. now, warren and hill first came up against each other at a battle called bristol station in the fall of 1863. and this was a few months after warren had married emily chase. when i was digging through some of warren's archives up in new york, i came across a copy of a letter that warren had sent across the line to hill, after that battle. warren had defeated hill. and he sent a note across the line that said, general a.p. hill, i have defeated your army corps, and i have married your old sweetheart. so this will give you an idea of
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the state of affairs as we're approaching the battles here at cold harbor. this thing is getting pretty personal. well, what brings the armies here to cold harbor? the union plan of campaign is a plan of maneuvers. grant's plan is to swing downriver from lee. lee is just below this rapid ann river. grant's going to swing the army of the potomac downriver, across, and then come back at lee. basically turning his flank. on may the 3rd, during that night, and into the early morning of may 4th, this union juggernaut crosses downriver from lee in central virginia and comes at him from below, stops in an area called the wilderness of spotsylvania. the union forces stop there in order to get supplies, their supply wagons catch up, and also because they don't think lee can catch them in the wilderness. lee, however, realizes that he has to hold that line up at the rapadan river, 50 miles north of
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richmond. he feels he has to hold that line, otherwise he would be driven back to the confederate capital, and find in the entrenchments and would be unable to maneuver. so lee's goal is to maintain his flexibility and his maneuverability. what lee does is to attack grant in the wilderness. he divides his army into three parts, launches a three-pronged attack. the battle is brutal. it goes on for some two days. something like 11,000 confederates are killed, wounded and captured. something like 18,000 union soldiers are killed, wounded and captured. 30,000 americans in all. the wilderness catches on fire. some of the most brutal scenes of the war up to that point take place. but grant at the end of those two days finds himself stymied. lee is in a powerful position in the wilderness and grant cannot break through. what does grant do? he maneuvers. he decides he will pull the army of the potomac out of the wilderness, swing south about ten miles to a place called
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spotsylvania courthouse. this will put him between lee's army and richmond. and as lee figures lee will have to come out from the wilderness and fight him on open ground. this is a tactical maneuver aimed at pulling lee out from his entrenchments. the army of the potomac starts to shift south. up to this point, whatever union generals had been trounced as bad as lee, had defeated grant in the wilderness, they always retreated. but grant moved south. lee gets a finger in his army in front of grant, blocks him at spotsylvania courthouse. there is brutal fighting in places like the mule shoe, the bloody angle, that goes on for over a week in spotsylvania courthouse, almost ten days. finally grant realizes he can't break through there. grant maneuvers again. he pulls the union army out from spotsylvania courthouse. sends a finger of it out on a
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big looping march, hoping to endice lee to come out so he can pounce on him. that doesn't work. there's a race to the north and a river. the next defensible position, about 25 miles north of richmond. the confederate forces take up position below the north anna. lee throws his army up into a wedge-shaped formation with the tip of it touching the south bank of the north anna. he realizes it by doing this. each wing of this wedge is on high ground. a very defensible position. the union army comes across and is basically split across the head of the union wedge, part of the union force is on this side, part on that side. lee realizes at that point he could strike either half of this divided union army with his force and have parity of numbers. but he's unable to do so, because at this point lee falls ill, has a bad diarrhea.
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his subordinate command has fallen apart. according to his aides, he's there at the north anna river, line in his tent saying we must strike them a blow. we must not let them pass. we must strike them a blow. but he cannot strike that blow. grant finally realizes the quandary, the trap that he has fallen into. throws up earth works. then we see the two armies sort of cheek by jowl, as one of the union aides put it, like two school boys facing each other across earth works. the confederates in a wedge-shaped formation, and the union army in a wedge-shaped formation, larger than the confederate one facing inward. they stay there for two days. grant comes up with another idea. maneuver, of course. what he wants to do now is to pull out from the north anna river, do it overnight, before lee understands what's happening. and then swing down the river systems to the east. this would take him below the north anna.
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where the north anna joins with other rivers, to the pamonkey. he will aim for the pamonkey crossing. that will put him only 17 miles from richmond. it will put him downriver from lee and he can make a sharp dash to the confederate capital, and finally get the victory he's been attempting to get. well, this move goes off like clockwork. the night of may 26th, grant pulls his army under cover of darkness, bands playing, across the north anna river onto the north side and heads off to the pamonkey crossings. lee has no idea what's going on until the next morning. then discovers the federals are gone. the union force makes its march, crosses at hanovertown, and part of it crossing at nelson's bridge. and now finds itself on the south side of the pamonkey ready
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to march toward richmond. a dramatic thing happens now with the cavalry. lee is now getting reports where grant is showing up but he needs to send out a force to find out where the federals are. jeff stewart, the confederate cavalry commander, has been killed. sheridan has headed south during these fights at spotsylvania courthouse, had drawn stewart after him. and stewart had been mortally wounded at the battle of yellow tavern on may the 11th. so lee puts in charge at least temporarily of his cavalry corps a south carolina general, wade hampton, who will distinguish himself mightily. still commanding this large of a body of troops. what lee decides to do is send a force to find where the federals are. and grant and mead decide to send a force to reconnoiter to
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find out where the confederates on. on may 28th with the union army pouring across the pamonkey river, they go out in the direction of lee, lee has now pulled out from the north anna, and sends his cavalry force under wade hampton toward where he thinks the federals might be. the two of them, of course, encounter each other at haw's shop near salem church. this is a place that the haw's shop area, of course, in recent times has been renamed after bob creek, who introduced me here, and it's now called studley. there's a massive cavalry fight that occupies most of may 28th. it's a dramatic and different kind of cavalry fight. the confederates commanded by wade hampton, basically get off of their horses, throw up field
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works, and fight dismounted. a series of attacks are launched by general sheridan. he is unable to break through. the union army is now gathering near him. but he doesn't want help from union infantry, he wants to win this battle alone. this cavalry fight goes on all day, until toward the end of the day, george armstrong custer is able to break the impasse, overruns portions of hampton's line and the confederates fall back. as nightfall comes across hanover county, it's clear that the federals have driven wade hampton's cavalry back. who won this battle of haw's shop? if you count winning battles as who occupies the field, clearly phil sheridan had done that. but if you gauge who won or lost by whose goals were achieved, clearly wade hampton had won. hampton has still screened the army of northern virginia. sheridan had no idea where lee's main force was. and at the same time, hampton
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had discovered where grant's army was. in scooping up union prisoners, he had also picked up some union infantry and was able to learn grant's location. so the battle of haw's shop will really be the first meaningful engagement in the battle of mead up to our fight here at cold harbor. well, lee decides to take up a strong defensive line during that same day, may 28th, and early the next day. if you take a look at the pamonkey river, and look at richmond, the next defensible line below the pamonkey is the tatamoney creek. it's a marshy, high-banked, small stream that runs just below the pamonkey. lee decides to take up a line there. during the last part of may 28th, all night and into the next day, the confederate army in northern virginia moves into place. well, what happens on may 29th?
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grant has now pulled his cavalry, phil sheridan's men, back to the rear so they can guard the burgeoning depot called white house landing. what the union generals decide to do is reconnoiter in force, basically send out the whole union army to look for lee. so horacio wright's sixth corps moves down the main road at lee station, gets down near the creek, and then swings sort of upriver. the union's second corps, hancock's boys come on down and set up position near the modern day shelton house, which was there at the time. and the other union corps form in the rear, with general warren starting to shift down yet further downstream on the creek. so the 29th is a day of reconnoitering. big thoughts are in the mind of both the union and confederate
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commanders with respect to reinforcements. grant has learned that his two supporting armies, the one in the shenandoah valley and the one on richmond have just been defeated. i'm told by my virginia friends up in the shenandoah valley was defeated by a handful of vmi cadets. that might be a slight exaggeration, but they definitely were defeated. butler moving up the james river was defeated by general beauregard. grant realizes now that his supporting armies are not going to get their job done, and decides he can draw reinforcements from them. he asks general butler, who is handling the army of the james, to send him baldy smith's 18th corps. so around the 28th of may, baldy
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smith starts toward the cold harbor area, basically coming in at white house landing. he's going to be coming by boat. it's quite an operation. baldy smith is going to take his 18th corps from an area called city point. in the ber muda hunter area near petersburg. come down the james river, swing around, come up the york, into the pamonkey, and finally land by boat up at white house landing. that's going to take a few days. baldy's men won't arrive until the 30th of may. lee also is looking for reinforcements. general breckenridge, who had defeated seagal in the shenandoah valley is now freed up and is pouring down here in direction, who reaches the army of northern virginia and takes up a position on the creek. lee also positions -- i'm sorry, petitions richmond for reinforcements from that area. now general butler is out of the picture, that should free up
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confederate troops there. the decision is made to send him general hoke's division. so during the 29th, these various reinforcements will be moving into this area. may 30th is a big day as we move toward cold harbor. if you take a look at the map, here's the pamonkey river. below it is the creek. and then there's two roads just below the creek. one of them is called shady grove road. that's near palgreen church. down below that is another road called old church road. what lee decides to do on the 30th of may is to launch an offensive. he realizes that part of the union army, the union 5th corps, has now crossed the creek, and is on his side of the creek. this is lee's chance to catch an undetached part of the army of the potomac. and wipe it out.
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basically warren is sitting down there by himself. so lee gives this job to the new head of his 2nd core, juneel hurley. he plans his second confederate corps with anderson's first corps. anderson is going to attack down the shady grove road, which is where warren's men are, and at the same time early will drop down to that old church road, and attack in the same direction, and then swing north into the underbelly of warren's soldiers. so this is going to be a two-pronged attack. well, things start off pretty well. jubel early and his men go charging down the old church road, manage to drive the federals who are back down in that area, mainly pennsylvanians, from the pennsylvania reserves, and heavy artillerists, back to bethesda church. then decide to charge north into the underbelly of warren's main force.
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where, though, is anderson. anderson, it turns out, has not stepped off. he sent one division out under general picket. picket's decided that warren is too strongly entrenched and has sort of backed up and stopped. without this kind of support, early's attack is futile. it is a slaughter, headed by willis. virtually massacred by warren's men. by union artillery replacements. it's been a massive defeat for the army of northern virginia. general warren, of course, is delighted. lee is quite upset. a fight breaks out between early and anderson. each writing letters
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the head of anderson first corps starts to march down into this area. it reaches an area known as the allison house. you'll see it on the old maps. anderson decides that he's going to launch a two-pronged reconnaissance toward old cold harbor, hopefully take the place. he wants to have hoke move down to cold harbor road. and he himself wants to go down
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old cold harbor. it will be a disaster because of changes made in the confederate command structure. a couple ofm)mñ days earlier, lawrence kits had come through richmond. he had brought with him a new regiment. it was called the 20th south carolina. and it was huge. had about 800 people in it. it was called by the other soldiers the 20th south carolina corps, because it was so big. confederates weren't used to seeing regiments of this size. lawrence kits had no experience whatsoever fighting the virginia style. he had a lot of political clout, though. and was put in charge of the brigade that had formerly been headed by general kershaw, and
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h hannigan. that brigade was given the command to reconnoiter toward old cold harbor. well, it was a disaster. kits marches forward. he's actually riding his horse. soldiers said he looked like a knight of old. custer's men are there. of course, with their seven-shot carbines. their eyes light up when they see what's coming at them. they wait until they get close and open fire. it's a massacre. kidd is shot through the liver and will die shortly. anderson falls back. and ultimately takes up a position to the north of where hoke's men are. between both hoke and clingman is a stream. it's marked on all the park service maps now. as bloody run. it wasn't called that back then, but it would certainly earn that
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name. and it divides hoke's men from anderson's men who are forming a line to their north. the -- anderson is supposed to be coordinating the efforts here. he has a confederate brigade plug that gap for a bit. but as horacio wright's federal sixth corps pulls into the place, he pulls the south carolinans out of place, so this ravine is now undefended. that's a weak spot in the confederate position. well, what happens on the union side, the union's sixth corps under horacio wright, fills the area down below us, and the fields right to our front. as a matter of fact, directly across from us is going to be elements from general hustes' brigade. and jernl emory upton, one of the best brigade commanders in
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the potomac. upton has masterminded a spectacular spot at spotsylvania courthouse. north of them are going to be baldy smith's men, recently arrived from richmond, who will then fill in north of this big ravine and stream that i was talking about. now, upton's force is interesting. in recent weeks, soldiers had been brought down from the defenses of washington in baltimore. these men were called heavy artillerists, because they manned the heavy artillery around washington, baltimore, other cities. they had little combat experience. the most they had seen was confederate prisoners. upton had been reinforced with one of those regiments. commanded by colonel kellogg. colonel kellogg was interested in having his men prove themselves, and volunteered to lead in the front line. so upton will form his brigade
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in four lines. the first three lines will be the heavy artillerists, and the last line will be made up of the remains of his other regiments that had been so heavily engaged in the wilderness, and of course, at the spotsylvania courthouse. at 6:00 the union force comes streaming forward. upton's men pour into the fields. i know many of you walked across on many of the tours. they take heavy losses. upton himself crouches behind trees, and according to some accounts was firing muskets and getting handed new muskets. it's unusual to see a brigadier general up this close to the fighting. kellogg, of course, is killed. many of his men are shot down. but some of them manage to make it to the confederate works. a group of sixth corps soldiers start working their way down this wooded stream. they're under good cover. and they discover that it's
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undefended. and soon they find themselves basically on the flanks of both hoke and anderson's men on the other side. and so now the confederate line is broken, or infiltrated. massive fighting takes place here back and forth. huge deeds of valor. by nightfall, the union forces have managed a few break-throughs. many of the union soldiers are pressed against the opposite side of the same earth works that the confederates are working. union forces pull back somewhat in many places. the other places confederates pull back some. some like 2,200 union casualties on june 1 at the end of the day. something like 1,000 confederate casualties. but in union headquarters, this was viewed as a massive victory. it's clear the fight is out of lee's army. if only there had been a few more hours of daylight and more troops here, the confederate army could be brought to its
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knees. there could have been a break-through, that would have been the end of the army of northern virginia. that's the thinking at union headquarters. well, that night both lee and the union commanders start pouring more troops down into this area. basically abandoning the line of the creek. on the union side, general hancock is ordered to march his second corps down here to cold harbor and get ready for a massive assault. a big assault to take place on june 2. the next dave. on this side, lee, of course, orders his men to shift south. breckenridge is to shift on down below hoke. and portions of a.p. hill's third corps, two divisions of it under ma hone and wilcox are to tack on to the lower end of the confederate line. so these lines are now expanding the entire battle is shifting down here to cold harbor.
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grant wanted to make his big attack here. he had several reasons for wanting to do it. he realized, of course, first, that stalemate was not going to sell very well. the -- he was whetted to the idea of a mobile campaign. the last thing he wanted to do is to be stuck in earth works at cold harbor. confederate position now is anchored on a -- toward the creek. and down toward the river. really no way to flank lee's position. the army of northern virginia as grant saw it was now -- had been reinforced somewhat. but there are a lot more reinforcements that can come. now is the time to make an attack before lee could reinforce his lines. finally, richmond was only seven or eight miles to the rear. so if he could break through the confederate works, he could take richmond. the confederate army would have to fall back on the river and there's no better situation than to have the enemy with a river
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to his back. so this looked like a perfect time to launch an assault. politically it was a good time as well. the nominating convention in baltimore was going to convene in the next week or so. what better presence for president abraham lincoln than the final demise of the army. the soldiers with the army of the potomac had fought in these fields during the seven days campaign, and of course, they knew that the -- this was no place to be with the fevers, and the disease, and the suffering of summer. so grant decides now is the time to make an attack. now is the time to break through the army of northern virginia. let's do it the next day. well, it didn't happen the next day. as often happens in these things, plans went awry. general hancock's men marched slower than expected. there were problems with guides and directions and roads that didn't quite pan out the way the leaders thought they would.
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hancock's men weren't into position until near the end. day. same problem with other soldiers marching down into this area. so grant decided he would launch this big attack the next day, june 3rd, at first light. well, that was all that robert e. lee needed to prepare. by now, the confederate forces were in place. they were able to dig in. and they built here at cold harbor some of the most effective earth works that they built during the entire war. they had time to not only sight their line along high ground. they dug the entrenchments. they threw dirt up in front of the entrenchments that they had built. they cleared fields with fire. they learned in the previous battles how to throw obstacles in front of the earth works to slow an attacking force. some of lee's engineers went in front of the lines, and actually were able to drive stakes into
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the ground at places to mark off the yardage so the artillery would know exactly how to set the fuses on their shells. basically making this cold harbor line into an impenetrable p bastion. grant, however, was still determined to make the attack. his judgment, this was the time, this was the place. there was no other place. and if he didn't attack now, there would be a stalemate. he sent out orders to gem mead. and general mead sent out orders to his corps commander. unfortunately, relations between mead and grant had deteriorated at this point badly. mead viewed grant as having very little military talent. viewed him as a man who threw men against earth works, with often very little purpose. this was not his style of warfare. grant, i might say, was also becoming very disaffected with mead whom he considered too
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cautious. at this stage of the war the men weren't even traveling together. they rode separately and took their headquarters up in separate places. this was like a disfunctional family. it one the soldiers who will pay for this disfunction. mead does very little to prepare for the assault. there are little orders set out how the attack is to take place. very little reconnoitering. many stories have come down about cold harbor. one of the stories that i'm sure most of you have heard is union troops who were attacking these earth works for the past several weeks knew that they were probably going to get killed. and men would write their names on paper and pin it to their jackets, so that their bodies could be identified. i doubt that that really happened here at cold harbor. i've checked through the contemporary sources, the letters from the men, and none of them mentioned that.
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the only place that that story is mentioned is by horace porter, who is one of grant's aides and he wrote it in a memoir that he produced many years after the war, that is filled with literary inventions. i suspect that is one of his many literary inventions. it's true that soldiers of the army of the potomac had done that before in earlier battles. this would be in november of 1863. but there's no evidence that it actually happened here at cold harbor. but everybody knew it was going to be a fierce and terrible day. 4:30 a.m., the signal gun goes off, and this huge union huge u lith heaves forward. or parts of it do. that's the sad thing about the battle of cold harbor. down on the lower end of the battlefield, general hancock's second corps punches forward. across from them at one spot,
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they make a breakthrough in a salient in the federal line where general breckenridge is positioned. but lee has a lot of reserves. one myth is that lee did not have reserves, that his line was thin. that's not true. some parts of the confederate line this entire divisions ab t behind them and that was the position on the lower end of the battlefield where hancock made his attack. the reserves pour in, drive hancock's men out and the union's second core find themselves in an untenable position. wounded men across the fields, men who are not wounded, but can't get to their lines, burrowing behind besides, all of the horrors of cold harbor are taking place along hancock's line, south of where we are right now. in this area, where the union's sixth core, horatio wright's men was to attack. very little happened. as a matter of fact, one of the
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confederate generals where we are right now, wrote that he had no idea an attack was even being made. the reason is, wright's men had attacked this same position on june 1. they knew what they were facing and they now knew the confederates had two more days to get for them. they moved forward a short distance and started digging. and the accounts of the soldiers who fought on this part of the battlefield reflect that. to our north, where the union 18th core would be, attacked. they came forward and baldy smith would send his men forward in columns. they'd go forward in columns down the next ravine over. it's called the middle ravine on the park services map. they figured that way, he would have enough mass to punch through the confederate line. well, good idea, but it wouldn't work this time, because the confederate first corps had time
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to strengthen. they realized these ways they may be broken through, so the confederate engineers had positions artillery along those ravines and had dug entrenchments there, so that basically this union column would be feeding into what military men call a reentrant angle, what i like to call a pencil sharpener. a pencil going in and getting ground to pieces. that's what happened to baldy smith's 18th core. men were slaughtered. within a short time, the 18th core was stymied. men crawling behind the bodies of dead men. the fields were basically total killing fields. evander law, one of the confederate generals in that part of the field later wrote those famous words, it's not
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war, it's murder. and up in that part of the field, it looked like that. the fifth and ninth core on the way end of the battlefield did very little until a few hours had passed and launched another assault. later in the afternoon will try yet once so this massive attack at cold harbor is really a disjointed set of attacks by disparate union army cores, very little support from each other, no defined objective except to break through somewhere. a very bad idea and definitely very poorly executed. >> i have been over these battlefields and done walks on these battlefields with men who have actually led men in battle. and had the honor one time to do a staff ride with general francs. we talked about told harbor. i asked, what do you think of grant's decision to attack at cold harbor and the way it was executed, and the answer i've gotten from people much more
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experienced in this than myself, is that they respect general grant's decision, that this was the time to make the attack. that's the kind of hard decision that an army commander or supreme commander has to make president the politics of it, and the situation of the armys, the expectation of perhaps more confederate reinforcements, made this a rational or reasonable time to make that kind of assault, and they don't fault grant for having decided to do what he did here. what they do fault, though, is the total breakdown in command. obviously, meed as army commander was responsible for making sure that the coordination was there, that the supports were there, the field was rackon identitiered, he doesn't do that. and grant had an obligation to do that. so there's plenty of fault to go around. grant later wrote in this attack at cold harbor was an attack that he wished had never been
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made. i find it interesting that he wrote that in the passive voice. he didn't say i wished i had never made it. he said i wished it was an attack that hadn't been made. i wonder if that was a side swipe on his part at general meed. at any event, by noon, grant called off the attack, and that was the end of the famous attack at cold harbor. in later years, the historians have written about the battle and talked about the casualties that took place here, and you see all sorts of inflated stories about the attack on cold harbor, the biggest assault, produced 7,000 union casualties in ten minutes, or 15,000 casualties in five minutes, you'll see everything. when i i was working on my book on cold harbor, i spent a lot of time investigating the casualties that took place.
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they were terrible, but what were they really? when you go through the actual casualty reports from the units engaged, the casualties are about half of what's generally claimed. somewhere in the range of 3,500 during that morning set of assaults. in other words, over a period of several hours. so the brutal attack at cold harbor, which sort of goes down in civil war lore as one of the worst of the assaults ranks somewhere around sixth or seventh worst among the assaults of the civil war. as far as people, as far as casualties. bad it was, but it was not the absolute catastrophe that it's often painted up to be. as a matter of fact, the losses in that assault were in many ways no worse and in some cases no worse than assaults launched in the wilderness and the courthouse. over the next day or two, the
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armies jockeyed for positions. the fields we're looking at now, were scenes of horror. wounded men, unwounded men lying there but unable to get food or water. sharpshooters on each side killing anything that moved, any body that moved. there are stories of men going out at night from the lines, trying to bring water to the injured, trying to pull comrades back, they too would be shot at. this was a killing ground. a horror show. it was hot and it was one of those -- one of the worst scenes you could imagine in the american civil war. there were scenes of bravery and there's several accounts of men who managed to work their way out into the field and drag their friends back. some of the injured colonels were dragged back as well. two days, three days, june 5th,
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after the big assault had taken place, general hancock went to general meed and asked if there could be some sort of a flag of truce so that wounded men could be brought back in from his portion of the line. his local commanders had been asking for that. this, of course, was relayed to grant. grant made the request of lee, and then for the next two days, up until june 7th, lee and grant bicker back and forth about exactly how the truce will be done, whether it can be local or generalized. it takes a long time for messages to go back and forth between the lines and not until june 7th, at the end of the day, is a truce declared and for a few hours, the soldiers from each army come into these feeies that we're in today and bring back thew;v8x bodies. because there's very few wounded left alive. hard to tell how many, but by many accounts, there's five or
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six, and the rest are all now bodies. if we were here that day, we'd see soldiers from each side trading tobacco and coffee. there are accounts of the union soldiers moving to the confederate lines, talking with them, shaking hands with them. it's as though this entire madness had stopped for a few hours. darkness comes on, the truce is called off. shots are fired, and that's the end of the truce at cold harbor. now these men who just a few minutes before were talking with each other, are trying to kill each other again. the armies stay here at cold harbor until june 13th. so they'll be here for another week. during that time, very few wounded men are brought in. during that time there's some movement, some jackieing, some assaults. i'd tell you what happened during those days, but i haven't quite finished my next book,
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which covers those battles, so i don't want to give away all the details. the big thing is this, though, grant realizes now, as he had in north anna, that he cannot break through here at cold harbor. and so he does what he has always done, and that is, he decide to maneuver. and he comes up with a good idea. he's going to have cavalry under phil sheridan make a raid up to the north. cut off some of the rail lines, maybe even move up into the shen an doea valley, take places like lynchburg and cut off the james river canal. he's then going to take the army of the potomac, pull it out of cold harbor, swing it south, cross the james, and then that army, in combination with butler's army and the 18th corps can take petersburg, cut the supply line to the army in northern virginia, and finally defeat lee. the union plan works like clock
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work. sheridan heads off on his raid. it will end disastrously at the battle of torrian station, but it serves its purpose for the time. and on the morning of the 13th of june, lee and his men look across and discover that the union earth works are empty. grant once again has managed to pull his army away without lee figuring out what had happened. the union army swings south, down to the james river. grant intends to cross. but lee does not understand what grant means to do. lee thinks that what grant might be preparing to do is to swing back toward richmond north of the james river. so lee stays here at cold harbor, sends some of his soldiers to the south, but doesn't do a major shift, because, again, he's uncertain as to what grant will do. well, as you civil war historians know, by june 15th, union forces are attacking at
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petersburg. lee is now alerted to what's going on. confederates managed to reach the town in time. there's a vigorous defense, and the war will basically devolve into a siege with many big battles, but still a siege that will last for the next ten months. i'm often asked, well, who is it that won this battle at cold harbor? and that won this big campaign between grant and lee? and i have to say, if you look at this, in terms of individual battles. lee had the upper hand in the wilderness. spotsl vainia courthouse and here at cold harbor, because each place he was able to deflect grant. but if you look at it as a unified campaign, i'd have to say grant was the winner. grant's goal was to neutralize lee's army in virginia, and he did just that. lee would be locked into the
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entrenchment at petersburg and richmond and be neutralized as an effective force in the war. lee's goal had been to hold his line at the rap dan river and after these series of battles, he was driven back into richmond. so he too realized he had failed in his goal. casualties were horrendous. 33,000 confederates during this campaign, were captured, killed, or wounded. something like 55,000 union soldiers killed, captured, or wounded. 88,000 americans all-told in something like 42, 43 days of fighting and maneuver. if you are to ask, well, who lost the most, obviously the union forces lost more men, but they were the ones generally who were on the offensive. they were launching the attacks. if you were to ask, which army lost the highest percentage of men, then the conclusion would be reversed. lee started the campaign with
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about 65,000. he lost slightly more than 50% of the men that he had started with. grant, of course starting with 120,000, lost a little bit less than 50% of the men that he had started with, so in that sense, grant wins the numbers game, depends again on how you count it. well, i've enjoyed chatting with you today. i've sure i've said 50 things that will cause a lot of debate and some of you may have questions as well. i believe i've been asked to talk to you for a little while, sort of like king cannut who was supposed to hold back the tides, i'm supposed to keep you happy enough until the sun goes down and the lighting of the candles to be carried on the battlefield. i'd be glad to take a question or two, or whatever you'd like to do, david? what's that? move to the next? okay, well, i guess i've done my job. so thank you very much, i appreciate it.
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[ applause ] >> next, on the civil war, historians and officials from the national park service commemorate the conclusion of the overland campaign, which took place in virginia, 150 years ago in may and june of 1864. in keynote remarks, james robertson describes ulysses desire to detroit the confederacy which culminated at cold harbor. he said robert e. lee earned his greatest and final victory of the war, but it wasn't enough to stop grant from besieging lee and his men at petersburg. the richmond battle park organized this hour-long event. >> well, good evening. my name is rick raines and i'm the pastor here at the fair mount christian church, and we are really sad that you're here
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tonight. [ laughter ] we know you are much anticipating being over at the battlefield, but we're glad you're with us tonight. i've been asked to begin the evening with a word of invocation. please bow with me. father in heaven, we come to this place tonight, not to celebrate war, but to celebrate sacrifice, loyalty, bravery, and the things that have happened in our history to make us the great nation we are today. may we learn from the lessons of history. may we not repeat the lessons that divide us, but may we repeat those lessons that make us, indeed, strong. tonight, dear lord, i thank you for the national park service and their very hard work in bringing this event to our community, to our state, and to our nation. and lord, i am most grateful that you've allowed us to be part of this. bless what we do in this place this evening and we humbly asking, dear father, that you
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bless your nation, in jesus name, amen. >> amen. >> on the 4th of may, 1864, the union army of the potomac crossed the rap dan river and passed into the dense wood loondland the locals called the wilderness. near the bridges, brass bands played the national national airs, along with other soldier favorites that stirred the men's' souls with optimism and hope. none could know but the final campaign of the war had begun. by the epped of may, the armies had crossed many rivers. the bloody battles of the wilderness, spotsel vainia courthouse and the north anna river had pushed human daring and suffering to the extreme. but the soldiers valiantly fought on. soon after the fight along the
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north anna river, u.s. assistant secretary of war charles dana hoped to transfer the lingering soldiers' optimism to the war weary northern home front. to boost morale back home and garner political support to continue the war effort, dana proudly proclaimed, the rebels have lost all confidence, and are already morally defeated. this army has learned to believe that it is sure of victory. even our officers have ceased to regard lee as an invincible military genius. on the part of the rebels, this change is evinced, not only by their not attacking, even when circumstances seem to invite it, but by the unanimous statement of prisoners taken from them. rely upon it, the end it near as well. similarly, in late may, the washington republican and the philadelphia bulletin also reported, lee has commenced a hasty retreat.
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pursued with real vigor by grant. grant is evidently, embarrassingly. unless lee stops to fight today, we shall hear next of a grand conflict for the city of richmond before or in the works of that capital. advices say jeff davis and his cabinet left richmond some days ago. there is little doubt that richmond, by this time, is pretty well cleaned out of its inhabitants, and that it's nothing less than a fortress. >> by june 3rd, 1864, the union army arrived within eight miles of richmond. the weary soldiers on the front lines, who had endured a month of incessant hard marching, unimaginable blood letting and death, dug in around cold harbor. grant's unrelenting hammering of lee's veteran army continued on this day, 150 years ago. a frontal assault was ordered, it was unmatched in cheer brutality.
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following the june 3rd assaults at cold harbor, private david coop of the 36th wisconsin wrote to his daughter from the trenches. no words that i can write can give you an idea of it. how would you feel to see your father lying in a ditch behind a bank of earth all day with rebel bullets flying over his head, so that his life was in danger if he should raise on his feet. without a chance to get anything to eat, then running across an open field toward a rebel battery, with rebel bullets and canister flying like hail and men falling, killed and wounded all about him. and finally ordered to fall on our faces so that the storm could pass over us. and then be oblige to lie in that position until being covered by the darkness of night so we could get away. and march through the night without a chance to get supper. so weak he could scarcely walk.
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to see him lie down in the dirt, and if stopping for a few minutes, so exhausted as to fall asleep. my dear daughter, your father my be lying dead on the field of battle and you may not know it. and so it was for the soldiers north and south. >> thank you for joining us this evening. my name is david ruth. i'm the superintendent of richmond national battlefield park. i'd like to take just a moment to introduce to you all tonight, our participants in this even's program. dr. james i. robertson, paul levengood, david adams, a close personal friend and steward of a large portion of the cold harbor battlefield. our readers, ashley and michael, and i want to send a special thanks to our chorus from the
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lee davis high school. thank you all very much for being with us in this program tonight. [ applause ] >> for the last week and a half, many of you have followed in the foot steps of union and confederate armies across the north anna and the pom onky rivers, to potmy creek, bethesda church and near here at the cold harbor across roads. tonight, we will pause to ponder the significance of these stories and what they meant to the veterans of both armies and generations of americans who came after. as we do that, we need to acknowledge the hard work of so many who joined with us in remembering and commemorating this unforgettable part of our shared history. from its own commemorative events at north anna to supporting our events here, hanover county has been a real strong partner with us, helped
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us with buses and helped us with many of the logistics and we thank the board of supervisors and the county for their assistance. we couldn't have done this without the assistance of fairmont church. this evening is a perfect example of this partnership. their parking lot provided perfect places for our shuttles to have the tours emanate from. so without fairmont church, this certainly could not have happened. our commemoration of the battle of top on themy creek wouldn't have been possible without the work of our newest partner, the rural plains foundation a friends group is working hard to expand a professional of the rural plains unit. kathryn patterson is here this evening, if you can just raise your hand. there she is, over to my left. thank you, kathryn, for being with us tonight.
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provided support that helped us conduct and publicize these commemorative programs. we're pleased with the virginiaal historical society working with us to set the stage for 1864 commemorations. seems like a month ago now, but thank you, paul, for your strong partnership with the national park service. and i also must say that i can stand up here tonight and provide some great words that some of my staff has helped me write, but none of this could have happened without the staff of richmond national battlefield park. and i lost some nights worrying about the logistics, but they lost a lot of nights putting together the programs over the past week. i'd like if you could just stand real quick, if you don't mind -- no matter what division you're in --
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[ applause ] and volunteers, please. [ applause ] >> these folks, many of them, were at the church parking lot this morning at 3:30 a.m. and met the tours and followed in the foot steps of the 18th and second corps, and as depleted as they are, they're here tonight to support this final program. so as the superintendent of this park, i couldn't be more impressed by this staff and proud. so thank you all so very much. [ applause ] and finally, parts of this battlefield would not be available to tell their stories were it not for the work of the
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civil war trust and the richmond battlefields association. their preservation work will ensure that these places will remain available to teach and inspire our children, grandchildren, and generations to come. indeed, these places, this land, and the history it contains, are the reasons that we are here. 150 years ago, hanover county, virginia, became one of the bloodiest leaps on the continent, for more than two weeks, tens of thousands of americans fought one another here, struggled to survive here, and died here. farms were transformed into battlefields. few communities suffered like hanover, and the war gave it an enduring identity. when the armies departed, families like the garthrights, the baez, the watts, and the adams, the mcgees and the burnets, were left to deal with the human wreckage left behind, they also faced the immense struggle of regaining their
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livelihoods that the war nearly destroyed. in the previous programs, we told the civilian story left by written accounts from the participants. tonight is different. our first speaker david adams is a life-long resident of cold harbor and is proud to represent the fifth generation of the adams family to live on the battlefield. he's here to talk about what it's like to be so closely connected to the land, a most famous place. through the hospitality of the adams' family, david and his mother, mary beth who is with us tonight, the park was able to take folks along the footpath of the second corps attack on june 3rd. we thank you for the hospitality you've always shown us, particularly this morning when we were there bright and early. thank you all. david? [ applause ] >> before david gets started, i
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did want to mention that it's very appropriate that he's sitting next to dr. robertson. he's a tech graduate himself, holds a master's degree in government from the university of richmond and uses those credentials to teach young people since 1979, where he taught at richmond community high school. much of the current staff of the battlefield, i already mentioned, had the good fortune of knowing both david, mary beth, his mother, and david's father edwin, who very good naturedly and with great patience welcomed many inquisitive park service historians to his farm over the years, graciously allowing our groups, eager to see this historic group, the right to step on this historic land. in the park service, we talk about stewardship, we try to take care of our sites, all national treasures. the adams family has treated their portion of the battlefield
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with respect and gentleness. they are great stewards and we are extremely grateful for that. again, thank you, david, for being with us this evening. [ applause ] >> good evening. i wish to thank dave ruth, superintendent of the richmond national battlefield park, for extending the invitation to speak on this significant occasion in the life of our country. it is indeed an enormous honor to have the opportunity to share this time with dr. robertson, and mr. levengood. dave, i thank you. in 1864, joseph adams owned a farm about a mile south of new cold harbor. he was 48 years old. had a very young family for his
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age. made a living raising wheat, corn, and vegetables. i am his great, great grandson. i grew up and was raised and worked on the same farm. today, i continue to live on it. it is a place filled with the beauty of wheat rolling in waves with the wind. emerald-green corn fields, if adequate rain has fallen and for years, cattle grazing across pastures. but this exact same place also bore enormous violence. i am so very honored to represent a connection with the civilian population of that long ago time. 150 years. this is very meaningful to me. we all know how the war divided the country. it divided families.
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it divided cold harbor. most cold harbor residents certainly supported secession in the confederacy. they saw the war as an invasion by high-handed government. but others saw it differently. they were southern unionists. such southerners likely felt that dissolving the union would end in tragedy. these differences were present in the cold harbor community. it was a civil war through and through. by grandfather was born on the farm and worked it all his life. he shared an account given to him by his father of horsemen returning to cold harbor years after the battle, war veterans. the image that was most dominant
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in the account was that some of the returning men were emotional. and so we wonder, what had they seen at cold harbor. what had they experienced at cold harbor. what did they remember about cold harbor? why were some weeping? over time, war relics would be unearthed by the adams' plow. through my grandfather's youth, like his father, and grandfather, plowing was done walking behind a mule. by my father's boyhood, a tractor-drawn plow would also inevitably latch on to war material. sometimes a rainfall would have the same effect.
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revealing lead bullets, shell and cannonball fragments. occasionally a bayonet, occasionally a rifle, and occasionally, portions of human bone. rust and decay marked how long they had left in the spot they fell that june day. for years, picking a lead bullet off the ground was pretty common place. we never gave its background a second thought. holding a war relic never really conveys anything close to what happened here. how easy to ignore that a lead bullet dropped a century and a half ago may have passed through a man. did it take his life? if it did so, how long did it take him to die?
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and what of my grandfather's father's farm on june 3rd, 1864? we know that enormous damage occurred on his place from the battle of gains mill, only two junes before. his house had been a union field hospital. in june 1864, the two armies had returned again. having survived and witnessed the carnage of war once, what dread must have filled his mind and heart. hell on earth was coming again to cold harbor. as a boy, who always loved history, living on a farm that had been a battlefield, always invoked a romantic image of war. it was always an image confined
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to heroism and valor and duty, and cold harbor was about those things. this youthful image of mine, however, included men falling neatly in lines, dead to the ground, and wounds that could be easily patched up. it would be much later before i would comprehend as my father and grandfather did, that our farm also produced immense suffering, untold agony and cruelty. but it also produced a genuine devotion to what those americans of 150 years ago thought was right. thank you for your time, and i appreciate it very much. [ applause ]
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>> one of the pleasures of being superintendent of this battlefield park is the opportunity to collaborate with other historical institutions, to work in tandem towards shared goals to strengthen the story of the old dominion and how it is told. one of those colleagues is dr. paul levengood. he's president and ceo of the virginia historical society. a position he's held for six years. paul is a native of pennsylvania, like myself, with degrees from davidson college and from rice university where he earned his doctorate in history. his many accomplishments, serving as editor of the virginia magazine of history and biography. work on the editorial advisory board of the encyclopedia
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virginia and publication of a book entitled virginia, catalyst of commerce for four centuries, published in 2007. that was the official commemorative project of the virginia chamber of commerce. ball is married, has three children is continues to steer the virginia historical society into the 21st century with a steady and imaginative hand. one of our staff has remarked to me that he has been to every state historical society in the south except for florida, not sure why, and that none can approach the virginia historical society for quality, efficiency, and usefulness. so paul, we appreciate all that you do. we're assembled here between the lines this evening, if we were in fact at cold harbor. as a group, at this place, that witnessed countless hundreds of untold personal tragedies, no doubt some of us, if we were actually on the battlefield tonight, would be sitting or standing on the very spot where a corpse may have lay 150 years
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ago tonight. for the survivors, it was too soon to extract broad meaning or context from their ordeal. paul is here tonight to reflect on that topic, how cold harbor came to be remembered. [ applause ] >> thank you very much, dave. and good evening, everyone. now, in stand-up comedy, the role i am playing right now is what you would call the middle. in other words, i'm serving as a bridge from the opener, who gets the crowd going, and in this case, gets the crowd moved, to the headliner, and that's the one that everyone came to see. so i think you'll agree, we had a wonderful opener in mr. adams. that was very moving. and my role now is to efficiently get you to our friend, the incomparable bud
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robertson, who is obviously the main attraction this evening. so as i middle here, i hope i can keep your attention for a few moments. and i promise that unlike a comedy show, there will be no ventriloquism or jokes about airline food. when superintendent dave ruth called and asked me to say a few words about this event, which marks a century and a half since the battle of cold harbor, i asked, why me? after all, i'm a 20th century historian by training. my war took place 70 years ago, not 150. however, dave said something kind about my presence adding to the event and i certainly appreciated that. but between us, he's my sometime doubles tennis partner, and it's in his best interest to keep>=9 ego stroked. but i do appreciate his confidence in bringing me here. now i'll admit that when i was thinking about this evening, it caused me a few sleepless
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nights, so i'm glad you had sleepless nights and i did too. afterall, what can i add that bud, or gordon ray, or a host of other experts has not already said about the battle itself? this isn't my era, obviously. my ability to add something to our understanding is limited. but once i realized that i really wasn't expected to become an expert on this battle, in a month's time, i gained some measure of peace. so instead, i decided to embrace my non-expert role and take what is a more impressionistic look at the meaning and memory, or lack thereof, of the vicious and in many ways, fruitless battle of cold harbor. so i'll begin by asking you a question rhetorically. what is it that sticks in our collective memory about the battle of cold harbor? well, for many, if not most of
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us, if we're pressed to come up with only one thing that characterizes this engagement, it might simply be this. death. this is not gettysburg or shiloh, or even the seven days. here we don't think of gallant charges, tactical successes, or feats of individual bravery. we think of death. we think of the two waves of u.s. troops who launched themselves, uselessly against deeply entrenched confederates and were mown down in staggering numbers. we think of the four days in which the wounded moaned and screamed for help in mow man's land as they died, parched, in pain, afraid. and we think of that photograph. do you know the photograph i mean? in the photograph, a litter sits
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on the ground. addressing the camera, with a steely gaze. in the background, four more men are stooped at their labors. these five are the living actors in this scene. but they are not the actors who draw our attention, who make this john rakey photograph one of the most haunting and macabre of the civil war. no, what draws our attention is not the living. it is the dead. how can we not look in this photograph, into the hollow, staring eye sockets of the five skulls that confront us? we're riveted to them as the very representation of death. only by tearing our eyes away from the skulls can we begin to make out the rest of the scene. the horrifying, disembodied mass of bone, clothing, and equipment, composed of parts of who knows how many human bodies.
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in almost a codea of death, we last notice of what looks like the remains of a leg dangling, jarringly from the litter. boot still attached. the photograph sears into the brain. at least it did to mine. i can't remember when i first saw the picture, and i certainly did not know where cold harbor was at the time. i'm sure i thought it was a port town somewhere in virginia. i may not remember in which book i first saw the photograph, but i know that it immediately and lastingly linked the words cold harbor and death in my mind. in subsequent years, i came to read more about the events of the spring of 1864 that culminated at cold harbor, that deadly slog from the rap dan to the james that saw the u.s. suffer 50,000 casualties, in the confederacy, another 30,000-plus, the bloodiest six weeks of the war.
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i learned of the thousands who fell in the early morning on june 3rd. i know there are differing schools of thought about what that number was. i learned that grant would harbor terrible regrets about his decisions at cold harbor to the very end of his days. and a learned that even in a war in which the military and the public had become accustomed to horribly long casualty lists, cold harbor stood out for his bloodyness. as i sought to find an angle for these remarks, by searching my mind on the battle of cold harbor, a book came to mind. it's called "the war of the world," a provocative work by neil ferguson. his premise is that the 20th century, with its two global conflicts and a series of more than a dozen others, that each
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caused more than a million deaths, was the most violent and deadly in human history. in quite convincing fashion, ferguson lays out evidence that helps explain why this was so. now ferguson's book makes no mention of the american civil war at all. in fact, it does not pay much attention to events in the 19th century united states, period. i suppose that i may simply be trying to connect a time period in the 19th century to one that i know better in the 20th century. but the more i thought about it, the more it struck me that the carnage here helped set the stage for the almost ceaseless fighting that would cost tens of millions of lives in the 20th century. not just in the terrible numbers of casualties. the very nature of fighting here also seemed to portend the way we would fight in the modern era. here at cold harbor, as the
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culmination of the meat grinder that was the overland campaign, humanity was afforded a glimpse of the future. a glimpse, and a warning. a warning of what war could be. brutal, industrial, blood-letting, that measured progress not in miles gained, but in inches. and not in winning a given spot of land, but in inflicting more damage on your opponent than you yourself absorbed. in a word, attrition. i think you can make a real case that something fundamental changed -- [ inaudible ] -- in some ways, modern war and how humans view the process of killing one another emerged out of those trees in the early morning hours of june 3rd, 1864. now, this past weekend, i
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attended, along with bud and maybe several others of you, the latest in the virginia ses qui centennial excellent set of annual conferences. this year's focus was on the civil war in a global context. it was very interesting to hear about the international perceptions of the fighting that convulsed this nation. in one session, the presenter observing that with few exceptions, europe viewed the events of the u.s. civil war as an abor haitian and learned few lessons from it. as it turns out, that ignorance proved very costly. i'm struck the fighting at cold harbor took place almost exactly 50 years before the outbreak of world war i in europe. with advances in weaponry, the front assault on entrenched positions in world war i became
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far more lethal, lethal on an almost unimaginable scale. it's always tempting to take a thesis and ride it to exaggerated and unsupportable extremes. it would be foolish to suggest that if the british and french militaries, or the german for that matter, had taken the terrible example of cold harbor to heart, that human kind would have been spared the horror of the saum or the marn. however, i can't help but wonder, whether that tactical thinking would have changed if they had consulted one of the view survivors of the second connecticut heavy artillery. or confederate brigadier general evander law who famously described what he saw as not war, it was murder. would they had repeated the mistakes we saw here among the pines of cold harbor? would the course of the first world war and perhaps by extension, the course of the 20th century been different? would that generation of
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potential european leaders who perished in the muddy trenches of france and belgium have been able to check the continent's slide into totalitarianism and genocide? i'm trained to resist speculation. we know that what if games are imprecise and dangerous. but i have to say, in this case, i don't really care. if there was a chance that the example of cold harbor, the memory of cold harbor, might have prevented far more awful events, half a century, or even a century later, it seems worth a moment of reflection and a touch of regret, don't you think? thank you very much. [ applause ]
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>> today, the name cold harbor inevitably conjures up images of entrenchments. we immediately think of field fortifications, of mile after mile of heaped-up earth snaking across the hanover county countryside. life in the trenches was a miserable existence, with its mud, filth, broiling heat and ever-present danger. but the soldiers of both armies appreciated those barriers of dirt. to better protect their own lives in a deadly environment. and as one georgia soldier explained, fighting on the defensive from behind those fortifications had its advantages. this campaign is the first in which our troops have had the privilege of fighting behind protection of any kind, it is fun for them. they lounge about with the accoutrements on and their gun close at hand, laughing and talking until someone passes it up or down the line, look out,
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boys, here they come! every man springs to his place and waits until the enemy gets close up, when the rear rank fires by volley. then the front rank. after which each one fires soon as he can reload. some load for others to shoot. each working rapidly, but calmly until the enemy are repulsed. >> some survivors, the union attacks at cold harbor wrote letters home, often mixing patriotism with anger, sorrow, and hope. that odd compound, perhaps reflects what the cumulative effect of constant campaigning and heavy losses could do to the mind, and the heart of a soldier. joseph barlo of the 23rd massachusetts, in a june 6 al t letter to his wife is a classic example. the 23rd has lost a large number of men and officers.
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i am writing to heart-rending cries, but it cannot be helped. though many has fallen and more must before we can take richmond, we are now within ten miles of the rebel sodom. i can only thank god they have been spared yet. been spared yet. ñ i may it soon be over. the weather has been awfully hot and the dust enough to kill any man, let alone the fighting. but now it has begun to rain, thank god. oh, if those men at home, had only one spark of feeling for the poor soldiers, they would rush to arms and help them to >> it's now my great honor to introduce our keynote speaker. more than 40 years ago, i began my career as a seasonal historian at the chancellorsville battlefield.
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one afternoon in 1973, a group stopped by the visitors center and the leader hopped out of a bus and began to tell the untimely death of stonewall jackson and brought nearly everybody in the group to tears. i asked the fellow standing next to me, who is this guy? i was told with great reverence, that this is the famous civil war historian bud robertson from virginia tech. well, i knew the rest of the story, because as they say, because i had read and reread his book the stonewall brigade before i arrived that summer. i also had the good fortune of attending virginia tech and over the years, dr. robertson has been an incredible inspiration to me and many others interested in civil war history. the books he has written cover an entire shelf, but the time he's spent mentoring young historians, both in academic and public history is immeasurable.
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i'll share a quick story. he's also an excellent and serious editor. he would generously mark up manuscripts, transforming them from white to red pencils. his graduate students found buying christmas presents for him was easy. a box of red pencils and he always put them to good use. for 44 years, dr. robertson was the distinguished professor of history at virginia tech. and i must ask, how many in this church congregation today attended his classes of civil war history over the years. that's wonderful. i was with the good fortune to attend many of his lectures. i was always amazed in that mcbride auditorium, for those virginia tech alumni seated here, that hundreds would fill that auditorium to overflowing,
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with students from every department, athletes, scientists, architects, mathematicians, all spell-bound in the way dr. robertson made history come alive. in my opinion, there were more teachers like him in the public school system, we would not question why students don't understand or care about american history. [ applause ] >> today, dr. robertson serves as a key member of the virginia commemorate virginia's participation in the civil war. under his leader3rs.l and guidance, the commission has been successful beyond all imagination. i'm honored to present to you, dr. james i. robertson jr.
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[ applause ] >> thank you. thank you very much. i would say david was one of my better students and i do remember that. i think the worst student i ever had was a football player who drifted into that course that i taught. and he did not take the mid term exam. and on the final, he failed it flatly. so i gave him an f on the course. he came to see me and he said, dr. robertson, i don't believe i deserve an f in this course. and i said i don't either, but that's as low as the system goes. [ laughter ] i wanted to thank david and the park service for the humbling invitation to give the keynote on this important anniversary. one of the first axioms you learn in graduate school is
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simple. any nation that forgets its past has no future. and i'm grateful to you for coming out this evening to remember a point in american history that cannot and must not ever be forgotten, june 3rd, 1864. the civil war became more sophisticated, more advanced, and hence bloodier, as the war years passed. by 1864, seasoned soldiers using rifles and well built earth works, supported by suitable and well-placed artillery, simply could not be dislodged. by any sort of final attack. the fact became indelible, early in june in pine thickets and open ground only eight miles from richmond. -- the . .
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. . . vantage, which march and maneuver had missed. it failed at a cost of life matched by no other 60 minutes in the four years of that war. it was in the civil war's third year that general ulysses grant assumed command of all union military forces. he personally was friendly and approachable. but he always seemed to have what one observer called a peculiar aloofness. he liked to be alone and comfortable with his thoughts, and his cigars. on may 4th, grant unleashed that campaign that would destroy the southern confederacy. union military forces would strike whenever they could, with all the strength they had.
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federals would keep attacking until confederate resistance collapsed. it was a simple and elementary ñ plan, but it had never been tried before by a union commander. grant made his headquarters with the army of the potomac. his attention would be totally on robert e. lee's forces. other generals had undertaken the same strategy and had met defeat. grant regarded a battle loss as merely a momentary setback. if bested, he intended to reassemble and attack again. and again. and put another way, in may h 1864, the union army stopped playing chess and switched over to checkers.
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both armies blaired copiously that month. grant took a pounding on a two day fight in the wilderness. the union general ignored the feet. so began a deadly game of fight, flank, and fight and flank and fight again. mile by mile, grant kept pushing. 50 miles and starting days after the start, the two armies were approaching the checkered army level an unproedictable string. behind it was richmond himself less than a week's march away gravitated to a place called cold harbor. there was not a stream within
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miles. it was nothing more than an intersection between country roads. by june it was obvious that the escalating skirmishes were reaching a point where full-scale battle was imminent. grant's resolve was as solid as ever. ho however his opponent was not in good health having taken a toll on robert e. lee. he had suffered a broken hand, a sprained wrist, rheumatism and the previous year, a massive heart attack of which there was no treatment cure or medication. as he inspected his lines in the opening of june lee was not a trapped traveler.
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he didn't have the strength to ride a horse. ho nevertheless lee's soldiers had become champion diggers. in other days they had one to two days as was the case at harbor. they created not one line of defense but two or three. they took advantage of ubish swell or gully. his lines zigzagged all enough high enough to make an ideal killing front in top. the uni simply put grant left the
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strategic details and i leave them to chief grant. preparations for so they for the union made a thoroughly uncoordinated advance. in addition the federal front bowed out slightly so that advancing unions would expose f flanks to heavy rare. lee was place was 7 mile nrj aby june troops more endreched at at in hi, campaign. billy banks nie all of these things.
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on thursday night amid june the 2nd. one of grant's officer brigade. the officer moved closer. receiptor an soldier he wrote the best but their dead bodies might be recognized and their fate made to the tamlies ba. general alexander noted the strength of both armies is being put against each other more so than ever before or ever
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hereafter. on this day everything was go right for lee. lee had little to do with the conduct of his traps. they approved to be accomplish killers as they were engineered. with uncoordinated union budle started to remanufacture. this was no acting. simultaneous attacks were supposed to be at three points with columns of troops six to eight deep yet concentrated and intense confed raet fire broke the salting rhymes to pieces.
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one division broke out line to avoid a swamp that was on nobody's am. hundred of fill it the cross fire. an observer stated that the columns of attacking federals were charaded much as a sharpener gliens a pencil. on both sides woor told that the angel of death is hovering above or head. before the start, the bottle
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assumed the characteristics of a the result was always the same. his ransing comadds moved fore as if they were marching in the face of a hailstorm like rows offing. for the 15th alabama, was aturkey shoot th. alabama colonel wrote bluntly i could see dust popping out of a man's clothing. in two minutes, not a federal stand soldier.
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at 6:00 a.m., before the sun cleared the tree ntps. figting continued here and there because the two armies were so close to each other. they could not go. o the exact figures can never be known but grant suffered about 7 tur ,000 casualties. at least half of the killed and unions fighting, equal to and
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came in the short period. cold harbor was an oence idefea. one observer declared never before and never again in the civil war was so many wounded soldiers left so long to suffer in plain sight of their comrades, the enemy and the buzzards. lee's army was too thin in
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number. thirdly, there was no general capable of executing it. meanwhi meanwhile glen puffed on significant cars and was they about the future lee gave pursuit. by mid june, at cold harbor, opening clearings and scars of battle lay silent. cold harbor now belonged to history. the battle was lee's greatest triumph and his worst defeat. he admitted it in the last nine months of his life when he was
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frantically writing his memoirs. nothing was gained for the compensation of the heavy loss susta sustained. in all of the civil war, no attack has been broken up as quickly or easily as the confederates. it was also robert e. lee's final major victory. cold harbor was the complex to the campaign. never before had armies fought like they did beginning if may. for a solid month they had not
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been out of contact. evident share long the lines there have been actions. in four weeks, average 2,000 a day. even brigged as had melted away. a month's fighting produced neverly 60,000 union casualties grant ensiekted 32 losses . grant had lesser man power in the north. lee could not replenish his
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other thinning lengths. at cold harbor lee won only time. even victory was becoming too expensive for the army of northern virginia. min ument has should cover this ground elsewhere is absent. preserving is difficult because the degree to make money in the present the exceed gravity we have in the past. national scemetery, some 670 stones can, they graduate mentor often told private madox in the
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last assaults at cold harbor. his regiment was shot to pieces. his this puman was going across the field. he saw private madux lying on his back dying. he bent over and in ant is paegs of the young volunteer passing along some kind of words being convey his family something back home. instead he asked is it a hours? is it a hours. yes, my son. my day is ours, we won victory. then whiefate madux says then i
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am willing it die the. bye. >> each offered the greatest treasure he had life, and thousands of them gave that supreme offering in the woods and clearings at cold harbor. we did not have to be an intellectual or even educated to understand the totality of what they bequeath to us. the civil war did not permanently shatter our nation. rather, it was a supreme test of endurance for a young, struggling country that now stands in blessed unity. you are north and south. you are here together tonight. and here this evening, as
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americans one and all, we look back with reverence to learn from the greatest teacher any of us can ever have: history. armed with an understanding of the past, you and i can look forward with common pride and renewed hope to the years yet to come. private maddox would like that. thank you. [applause] the overland campaign was the largest and the bloodiest campaign of the entire civil war. both armies lost almost half of their original fight


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